Pickled letters_Istanbul

Pickled letters at a graphic design studio in Istanbul.

I’ve been quiet since the presidential election. Like many people, the election threw me—not because I didn’t think he could win, but because I couldn’t imagine it. Me, a fiction writer who speculates about nearly everything, playing out what ifs, the outcomes and meanings of various scenarios in my head, couldn’t imagine what the United States would look like with Trump as president. And after, I took it as a national and personal tragedy, thought I’d never feel happiness or hope again. As well as taking a close look at my country, I looked at myself, my life, my work. My fiction writing. And I wondered what it was worth.

Several people told me: You’re a writer. You have the power to influence people and promote change. Use your skills. So I felt this pressure, this obligation to write essays that would move people to take some kind of action. I felt the importance of my fiction writing diminish in the face of such dire times. Unless I was writing something like 1984, writing fiction felt indulgent, frivolous.

In an interview with Turkish novelist Elif Shafak on the New Yorker Radio Hour, David Remnick commented that it seemed like she was writing about politics in spite of herself—almost against her will. She replied that she doesn’t have the luxury to not be political, given the oppressive situation in Turkey and the fact that she’s Turkish.

Writing at Ataturk Airport

Writing at Istanbul Atatürk Airport

I also felt like I was writing about politics against my will, and I also felt that same obligation as an American who believes in protecting—and fighting for—equality and civil liberties. To protect the ability to criticize, state opinions without repercussions, and yes—write whatever we want.

And that’s key. When I spent some time in Istanbul last November, I learned from Turkish artists that one of the most rebellious things you can do to protest a political system bent on killing free expression is to keep doing your art. Thinking, writing, creating—are dangerous to the regime. When author and badass Naomi Klein was last in Seattle, she remarked that it was important to not just say no to the Trump agenda. We also need to “fiercely protect some space to dream and plan for a better world. This isn’t an indulgence. It’s an essential part of how we defeat Trumpism.”

After writing essays, letters to representatives, and valentines to Washington State mosques, I began to incorporate fiction into my writing life again, cultivate it, let it take up more space. And it feels goods. Fiction’s my home. It’s the best way I can be a part of the world. Stories make us human, help us understand one another, provoke us to ask questions. Exercising this civil liberty is active protest. And it’s worth everything.

Advertisements